Many fans worry that the NHL is slowly but steadily legislating physicality out of the game, and this year delivered plenty of fuel for debate about player safety in the form of big, thundering checks that sent players end-over-end, tumbling into benches, and, on rare occasions, through the glass. Most of the hits were well within the rules, while others were cause for supplemental discipline as the NHL continued to place added emphasis on preventing head injuries. After sorting through nine-plus months of game highlights, we present the 13 most bone-rattling hits of 2013:
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Rick Vaive, a 50-goal scorer and former captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs, has asked that his name be removed from the concussion lawsuit filed earlier this week against the NHL.
“Mr. Vaive misunderstood the nature of the proceeding being brought, and believed this claim was similar to the worker’s compensation claim being advanced in California on behalf of several former NHL players,” Trevor Whiffen, attorney for Vaive, said in a statement Thursday.
“Rick has no interest in suing the National Hockey League and has advised that he will not be pursuing the claim in Washington. He has therefore instructed me to take the necessary steps required in order to remove his name from the lawsuit.”
Bob Bourne, a four-time Stanley Cup winner with the New York Islanders and former 14-year NHL veteran, has become the 11th player to sign on to the class-action lawsuit alleging the league knowingly exposed players to long-term health risks through violent hitting and, in particular, incidents of head contact.
Bourne made his involvement public on Tuesday night, but it was a tweet from his recently established Twitter account that was eye-catching. The link on the tweet leads to the website of Mel Owens, the NFL player-turned-attorney who is heading the lawsuit:
There was no immediate indication anywhere on Owens’ site that players other than Bourne have officially signed on, but Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston is reporting that the suit has indeed grown to include 200 players.
It was never a matter of if the NHL would face a concussion lawsuit similar to the one settled for $765 million by the National Football League earlier this year. It was simply a matter of when.
So league officials could not have been surprised to learn today that a group of 10 former players have banded together to file a class action suit, essentially alleging that the NHL knew about the risks of head trauma and should have taken action long ago to inform and protect players.
By Allan Muir
Just came across this tweet from Chip Alexander of the Raleigh News and Observer that left me gobsmacked.
Because of course, why wouldn’t Jeff Skinner be rushed back into the lineup for Saturday’s game against Philadelphia? That seems like a perfectly reasonable decision to make with a player who was knocked senseless after sustaining this open-ice hit from Ottawa’s Jared Cowen, right?
Especially a player who has missed stretches of both this season and last with concussion-related issues.
Muller says hopeful Skinner can play against Flyers.—
Chip Alexander (@ice_chip) April 18, 2013
Alexander later reported that Skinner actually wanted to come back after the Cowen hit and was upset with the team doctor for not clearing him. And you know, that’s great. You want a potential franchise player like Skinner to have that hunger, to desperately want to get back into the battle with his teammates.
By Allan Muir
The way Brendan Shanahan saw it, Anton Volchenkov had a choice. With Brad Marchand squarely in his sights, he could have blasted the Boston winger with a legal check, or he could have done something stupid.
Volchenkov went with Plan B. And so the New Jersey defender will sit out four critical stretch games.
Shanahan’s video explanation captured what everyone who watched the play saw. This was a cheap shot that could, and should, have been avoided.
“Rather than make a full body check, Volchenkov extends his elbow, making significant contact to the side of Marchand’s head,” Shanahan said. “Although Marchand…is stopping and turning his head away from Volchenkov to avoid the full force of the impending check, that doesn’t contribute or explain the reckless elbow contact to the head on what could’ve been a legal collision. He sees Marchand clearly, and if anything, Marchand’s actions just prior to contact forced Volchenkov to extend his elbow even further.”
We don’t yet know exactly how badly Evgeni Malkin was injured after brutally slamming his head into the boards in last night’s game against the Panthers. But we do know that our early fears have been confirmed. This, from Rob Rossi at the Pittsburgh Tribune:
Evgeni Malkin is experiencing concussion symptoms, including severe headache and mild disorientation, multiple sources confirmed Saturday. Malkin was injured early in the third period of the Penguins’ win over Florida at Consol Energy Center on Friday. He did not finish the game after sliding into the end-zone boards. The back of his head appeared to bounce off the boards, and Malkin’s neck snapped back in a seeming whiplash motion.
A team source said Malkin was out of the lineup for Sunday’s home game against the Lightning. After that? Who knows. A mild concussion may mean he’s out for a matter of days. But as the Pens know all too well from Sidney Crosby’s brain injuries, these things can be wildly unpredictable. At this point, we just have to hope for the best.
It’s worth noting that no one involved thought that Erik Gudbranson’s hit was dirty in any way.
“I just finished my check,” Gudbranson said after the game. “You never want to see a guy go down. He’s in a vulnerable position. But you can’t pass up a hit. Its unfortunate that he got hurt on the play, but it’s one I’d make every time.”
By Allan Muir
There’s been talk in and around the league for years about the possibility of widening the size of the current playing surface.
The game’s getting faster, the thinking goes. The players are getting bigger. It’s too easy to diminish the impact of skill players … and there’s a greater chance than ever of getting seriously hurt.
It’s a radical idea that will demand serious debate.
Especially if another sport beats the NHL to the punch.
According to this story in the National Football Post by Chicago Tribune writer Dan Pompei, the National Football League has considered widening its playing field in the past year and could re-examine the issue again at meetings ahead of the annual draft combine.
The reasons for the big dog of American sports to consider such a dramatic change sound pretty familiar.
“Some believe NFL players have outgrown their field, which is part of the problem with head injuries,” Pompei writes. “The thinking is a wider field would spread out bodies over more space, reducing hits in the middle of the field. The down the field game wouldn’t change much, but box play could be considerably different.
“[Canadian Football League-width] fields also may encourage faster, more athletic, and smaller players because covering ground would become a more valued asset.”
By Stu Hackel
An alarming spike in concussions earlier this season caused some NHL general managers to propose rolling back rule changes and possibly returning the game to the somnolent Dead Puck Era, but as of mid-Tuesday afternoon there seemed to be little coming out of their Boca Raton Florida meetings that indicates they favor stiffer penalties or longer suspensions for players who willfully target an opponent’s head.
By Stu Hackel
The NHL’s general managers will gather for their annual March meeting next week and hints have been dropped by some to members of the media that they’d like to revisit the rule that makes possible one of hockey’s most exciting plays — the two-line stretch pass that leads to a breakaway.
Ostensibly, this would be the GMs’ way of helping address the game’s concussion problem, the idea being that the NHL has gotten too fast in part because the two-line pass increases players’ speed and thus the force of collisions and the possibility of concussions. But various league sources say the GMs as a group won’t allow this rule — if it makes it onto the agenda — to be overturned. While there is certainly ongoing concern about concussions, the notion that the game is going to be somehow slowed to prevent them is not the direction the majority of managers want to take. Some of the less progressive GMs are still trying to turn back the clock, but they are in the minority.